Monday, June 22, 2009

Safe and Well List—It's how families and friends can stay in touch in a disaster or epidemic

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Flu spotlight turns to Canada, as H1N1 swine flu sweeps First Nations and Inuit communities

Left: The 1918 Spanish flu, another A/H1N1 swine flu, devastated Inuit and indigenous communities throughout North America

Inuit Territories, Canada--For a flu that thus far has produced mostly mild disease, the high number and severity of A/H1N1 influenza in Canada’s aboriginal and First Nations communities is sobering.

Canada, which to date has 5,710 confirmed H1N1 flu cases and 11 deaths, has given no indication why the surge is occurring in indigenous communities.

The sharp spike of outbreaks in the predominantly Inuit territories drew alarm from the World Health Organization last week. WHO senior official Keiji Fukuda announced that disproportionate numbers of serious cases in Nunavut and northern Manitoba communities was cause for concern.

Fukuda warned that past pandemics had hit Inuit populations "very severely."

Nunavut’s chief medical officer Dr. Isaac Sobol downplayed WHO’s report saying he didn’t see a disproportionate number of serious cases in Inuit communities--even as cases in Nunavut doubled from 25 to 53.

The next day the number of confirmed cases jumped to 96. The number has since risen to 204. The Nunavut Health Department has reported that outbreaks are spreading to communities throughout the entire region.

Northern Ontario's Sandy Lake First Nation is reporting more than 120 new cases.
Northeast Manitoba has 226 confirmed cases and two deaths in their small aboriginal communities.

Over two-thirds of the seriously ill and those airlifted to hospital intensive care are aboriginals.
“I suspect, by the time this virus has worked its way through Manitoba, as many as half, if not more, Manitobans will have been infected," chief provincial public health officer Dr. Joel Kettner said.

He said that a disproportionate number of Manitobans from First Nations appear to have a severe form of the flu, and aboriginals and people aged 20 to 60 are among the groups most at risk of H1N1 flu infection.

The 1918 Spanish flu, another A/H1N1 swine flu, devastated not only Inuit communities in Canada and Alaska, but other North American indigenous communities as well, and caused extremely high mortality rates among indigenous peoples.

WHO’s Fukuda said any speculation as to causes such as genetic, environmental or due to underlying diseases is premature.

Aboriginal leaders blame poor health and living conditions and accuse federal and provincial governments of leaving them with few resources. Poor nutrition, overcrowding, and substandard housing makes it harder to prevent the disease from spreading. In some communities as many as a dozen people squeeze into two-bedroom homes, and over half have no running water. They also lack full-scale medical clinics.

There is some fear that the virus may travel throughout Canada's Indian country and still be active as a possible second or third H1N1 wave hits this fall and winter. While most people recover without taking anti-virals, WHO said the anti-viral Tamiflu may reduce the symptoms and duration of illness, and may contribute to preventing severe disease and death, putting an emphasis on the importance of its availability in indigenous communities.

The Red Cross website counsels worried families that knowing what to expect, how to prepare and where to find needed information and support will increase your resilience, decrease your stress and minimize the impact on you and your loved ones. Here's pandemic preparedness: And here’s advice for Parents on Talking to Children about H1N1 flu: Families and friends can stay in touch on the Safe and Well Registry:

The CDC, and the federal government’s pandemic website are good sources of information. The CDC’s toll-free hotline is 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636). The line for the hearing impaired is 1-800-232-6348.

Archaeological find could prove humans were here 37,000 years before the Clovis

Archaeologist Albert Goodyear found artifacts at the Topper Site near the Savannah River in South Carolina that indicate humans lived here 37,000 years before the Clovis people.

Goodyear's findings are controversial and will open scientific theory as to the exact origin and history of early Native American people.

The scientific community believes the ancestors of
Native Americans crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia 13,000 years ago. Some scholars disagree, saying that Native Americans evolved in the Americas and migrated outward.

A controversial case is Kennewick Man, found July 28, 1996 on the bank of the Columbia River in Washington. The Nez Perce, Umatilla, Yakama, and Colville claimed the remains for a traditional reburial under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

Local anthropologist James Chatters had removed nearly all the remains for study and concluded they were Caucasion. The Ninth Circuit Court ruled February 2004 that a cultural link between the tribes and the skeleton was not met.

NAGPRA proponents say the definition of Native American, “ that which is or was indigenous to the United States,” agrees with current scientific understanding that it is not always possible for prehistoric remains to be traced to modern tribal entities, due to social upheaval, forced resettlement and extinction of entire ethnicities by disease or warfare.

Chatters went on to publish a book. When anthropologist Joseph Powell was finally allowed to examine the remains his conclusions that the Kennewick Man was not European but most closely resembled South Asians and the Ainu of northeast Asia contradicted Chatters.

To read today's news on the Goodyear find: or

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Opinion: Canada's shame found in poor treatment of First Nations people

Canadian policies and legislation since the time of Confederation have served to collectively marginalize First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. More... Digital Journal.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, disease outbreaks – how ready are you?

Hurricane season arrived June 1. If that’s not a concern to your region, consider this: tornadoes, floods, drought, wildfires, disease outbreaks. Are you ready for the unexpected?

Tribal officials are not included in the current U.S. channels of information about emergency preparedness and planning. But there are steps you can take to be certain your family is ready.

The websites gathered below help you prepare for many threats you might face, beginning with how to put together that basic emergency kit every family should have in their home and car.

Buy your food, water and other essentials for your disaster kit such as batteries, in bulk to save money. Look for two-for-one deals and stick to generic brands. Make a family plan in case of an emergency including where to meet, who will be in charge of taking care of children.

News that a disaster is on its way can cause any family to worry. Instead, focus on your strengths and abilities. You have to plan just once for all types of disasters.

Safe and Well List—Sign up to keep family and friends connected in a pandemic or disaster. It's free: – Prepare, Plan, Stay Informed:
FEMA Are You Ready?
Disaster Planning for Elders:
Red Cross Disaster Preparedness:

Friday, June 5, 2009

H1N1 swine flu in 52 states and territories, Indian Country cases emerge

by Terri Hansen
Environment and Science Reporter

Update June 5: The H1N1 flu has reached 52 states and territories, claiming 27 lives. IHS epidemiologist Dr. John Redd reported 35 confirmed and 13 probable cases across Indian Country May 25. Arizona Pima County Health Dept confirmed one death in Pinal County. Adults over age 60 may have immunity due to previous exposure or vaccination against a similar strain, and those born before 1957 may carry some pre-existing immunity.

May 6: The much talked about Influenza A/H1N1 virus, a never-before-seen, rapidly spreading swine flu strain has so far spared most of Indian Country. The Tohono O’odham Nation in the Arizona Sonora Desert reported four cases, all children, and all are recovering.

There are eight more probable cases in Pima County, Ariz., and 20 suspected cases elsewhere. A suspected case that closed a tribal campus at the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde in Oregon was not the H1N1 strain.

The Havasupai Tribe, whose village in the Grand Canyon flooded last August, put off reopening to June 1, disappointing hundreds of would-be visitors. “We’re a small isolated community,” said vice-chairman Matthew Putesoy. “People come from all over the world to visit and even though we’ve lost our economy, we couldn’t take the risk.”

The U.S. has declared a state of emergency, and health officials say flu cases are likely to grow in coming days. The World Health Organization alert level remains at Phase 5, a strong indication that a pandemic is imminent and the time to implement planned mitigation measures is short. The WHO is warning against over-confidence, although most cases of the flu have been mild. A pandemic means world wide, and is not an indication of the severity of illness.

Dr. John Redd, branch chief of the IHS Division of Epidemiology, said the IHS is responding aggressively. “I’ve been on the job for 11 or 12 days,” he said. “We activated our emergency coordination center early on, and all of the tribes have put their emergency response plans into action. We feel the response has gone very well.”

Non-IHS medical providers are coordinating with state and local governments to provide services, Dr. Julia Wong, a physician with the Portland, Ore., Native American Rehabilitation Association said.

Its impact on non-federally recognized Indian nations could be harder. “We are on our own,” said Jennifer Lagergren of the Chinook Nation, a non-federally recognized tribe in Washington State. She worries if the flu virus does reach them, it will spread fast. “We live more close together with each other, with our children, our elders.”

Chief Albert Naquin of the non-recognized Isle de Jean Charles Band in Louisiana said tribal leaders attended a state funded class last year to learn what actions to take in a pandemic flu. But without grant monies the tribe cannot implement those procedures. “I pray this is just a scare to us, and that no life is lost because of this flu,” Naquin said.

Flu experts are struggling to predict how dangerous this new strain will be. During the swine flu threat of 1976, government programs rushed to vaccinate nearly 25 percent of the population. Only 200 came down with the flu but 500 people developed Guillian-Barre syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes temporary paralysis; 25 died. It cost the government their credibility, and millions of dollars in damages.

But memories of the 1918 Spanish flu – that affected Native Americans and Alaskan Natives especially hard – is a harrowing reminder that novel strains of human-to-human transmissible swine flu can turn into human plagues. This new swine flu strain lacks the genes that made the 1918 pandemic so deadly, the CDC has said.

Nor is this flu particularly virulent. CDC spokesperson Karen Hunter said, “It’s just that it’s a new strain and the human population hasn’t built up a resistance.” She said 36,000 deaths a year are flu-caused and the CDC is not expecting this flu to exceed that. There are concerns this strain could mutate and return in a more virulent strain the fall.

Mexican authorities noticed higher than usual number of respiratory illnesses in mid-March. In early April the CDC was investigating cases in California and Texas. They made their official announcement April 24. As of this report, the flu had spread to 38 states, and 21 countries. The U.S. has had two deaths, in Texas.

Newsweek is reporting that in 2005 a Wisconsin teenager who butchered pigs came down with an H1N1 swine flu virus, the first part of an evolutionary tree that has led to this current strain, which has evolved in a quadruple strain of human, bird and two types of swine virus. But even though this is pig virus, eating pork won’t give it to you.

Flu is caused by airborne spread of droplets, and everyday actions, such as avoiding contact with someone who is sick can keep you from getting it. The symptoms of this flu are usually fever, cough, sore throat, headaches or muscle aches, fatigue, and occasionally vomiting and diarrhea. If you or someone in your family has symptoms, call your medical provider for additional instructions. Young children may not have typical symptoms, but may show signs of low activity and have difficulty breathing.

The CDC and IHS is asking that those with any respiratory illness stay home from work or school to avoid spreading infection to others. Smart actions can protect you and your family: washing hands thoroughly and frequently with soap or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, practicing social distancing – keeping a distance between you and those who are sick, and using disposable tissues or sneezing into your elbow to keep from sending germs airborne.

Two anti-viral medications, Tamiflu and Relenza, are effective treatments for those with serious illness if used early. Most cases of this flu are mild, and do not need medical attention. Some clinics and emergency rooms cannot handle the number of patients seeking diagnosis and treatment, and say it’s putting heart attack and trauma patients at risk. They ask that you assess your situation, and make wise choices.

The IHS maintains their own stockpile of the anti-viral drugs, Redd said. If those supplies deplete then medical facilities will receive anti-viral drugs from the Strategic National Stockpile.

The U.S. Education Department said school closures have affected well over 500,000 children. Health officials are changing their school closure policy, keeping schools open but keeping sick kids home so schools don’t become infected. Messages have gone out to employers by different organizations, asking them to understand when parents have to stay home.